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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre continues their 2017 season with the Johnny Cash tribute show Ring of Fire. Directed by Curt Wollen, with choreography by Wendy Short-Hays, this highly entertaining and perfectly cast production showcases over 30 of the songs that made The Man in Black one of America’s most beloved performers. Presented as a sectionalized rolling history of Cash, illuminated by music selections from his and others’ catalogues – we become acquainted with his life and times. For want of a term, I would call the show a “biological revue”.

I've Been Everywhere

The entire cast joins in on “I’ve Been Everywhere” during B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

The musical selections move from earnest, to slick, to high-stepping, onto uplifting as we progress through the story of what began as a hard life in Arkansas, moved through the days of hits and kicks, then turned upward to more reverent ideals. Each number is compelling in it’s presentation, whether it be rousing or poignant. This works well to array the varying audience reactions from foot-tapping bliss to choked back emotion.

The wonderfully organized production benefits from the unique cast which has been assembled for it, most of whom make their B&B debuts. The requirements to be in the cast must have been: 1) have recording contract quality vocal talent, 2) be able to play a multitude of stringed instruments, plus a few others, 3) have the exceptional ability to show that you are having so much fun onstage, that we all want you to never stop. This generously talented ensemble of players includes B&B newcomers Melody Allegra Berger, Tim Drake, Allison Kelly, Jeremy Sevelovitz, Travis Smith and Zack Steele. Brian Gunter returns for a third B&B show. Jill Kelly Howe is also a B&B veteran and indeed is also the resident costumer for the theatre.

Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart

Jill Kelly Howe as Minnie Pearl for “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart” with Brian Gunter on bass and Jeremy Sevelovitz on ukulele during B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

This ensemble of eight talented singing musicians works amazingly well together, especially when blending their voices in close harmony. In fact, their stage presence and easy delivery throughout may have you thinking that they have all been touring this show together for 10 months or more. But that is not the case – they have somehow acquired a remarkable cohesion, which makes the program ever more enjoyable.

Ring of Fire

Allison Kelly joins Travis Smith for a rendition of the title tune in B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

Some highlights in the show include Ms. Howe’s haunting ballad “Far Side Banks of Jordan” and her comical turn with “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart” (a lá Minnie Pearl); Mr. Drake’s stirring rendition of “Ragged Old Flag”; the ensemble’s lively “Daddy Sang Bass”; and flashy piano and guitar work by Mssrs. Smith and Sevelovitz, respectively. Ms. Berger is an extraordinary fiddle player – and she “burns” her instrument on her featured appearance in the Act Two opening number; Ms. Kelly is tremendous in her renditions as June Carter in “Ring of Fire” and “Jackson”, as well as her soulful solo “All Over Again”; Brian Gunter exhibits his rare musical abilities in countless numbers; and Mr. Steele displays a variety of talents throughout, while he is especially noteworthy in the encore piece, “A Boy Named Sue”.

Oh Come Angel Band

The entire cast blends their voices for “Come Angel Band” in B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

Bottomline: It’s hard to be a critic when there is nothing whatsoever to criticize. This show is fresh, lively entertainment (with a PG rating due to some lyrics about drugs and crimes). Honestly, I think it just may be as fine a show, in terms of musical performance, as I have ever seen at this venue.

Ring of Fire continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through August 13. Show times and reservations can be viewed at http://www.beefandboards.com or call the box office at  317-872-9664.

  • – Photos by Julie Curry
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